Victoria station’s forgotten brickwork

“The red-brick clock tower on Milton Street is all that you can now see of Nottingham’s old Victoria Station…”

I’ve read, repeated and written the above line a number of times over the years, but have to admit that it’s not strictly true. Whilst the glorious clock tower is the only complete building visible from the days of the station, there are other structures — mainly walls — that stem from that time, and which you can see today.

Visit York Street and Cairn Street at the northern end of Victoria Centre but before the car park and you can see extensive portions of the walls that both denoted the perimeter of the railway site, and supported the cutting. The bricks of the walls are mainly grey with a dark blue tinge, and their appearance has doubtless been influenced by the steam that swirled around them for seven or so decades.

Below is an image I took a couple of years ago, looking west within the lower level of the northern car park. In the upper background is the now-demolished York House. York Street runs roughly left to right, and I’ve indicated with the red line where ground level sits above. Nowadays, the higher portion of the brickwork is supported on York Street by modern brick. Curiously, within one of the arches is a redundant water pipe and a tap. Perhaps in the days of steam travel, these structures provided what passed as a tea room for the staff!

You can see similar walls over on the eastern side of the chasm (once called Victoria Hole), too, and get an idea of Victoria Station’s northern portion, where trains would have departed and arrived via a huge tunnel under Mansfield Road that emerged at a station on the Clarendon College site. You can read a little more in my text-only Kindle book, Nottingham Victoria: The story of a slum, a station and a shopping centre, available on Amazon by clicking here.

Victoria

Advertisements

Long Row East and King Street, 1930 and 2012

This is another image from the exhibition I had at Brewhouse Yard, entitled We Share These Streets. It shows the familiar corner of King Street (left) and Long Row East (right) formed from two photographs; one taken in 1930 (which appears courtesy of Bernard Beilby and Picture The Past) and the other taken by me in 2012.

In 1930, the area around the Council House (which was only just being completed) wasn’t pedestrianized. People back then seem to have been made of sterner stuff than today. The motorcyclist, for example, is content with a flat cap rather than a crash helmet. I love the fashion of the people in the older image. It feels as though we could be looking at a still from a Harold Lloyd film, which I suppose is appropriate for the era.

Clarks shoe shop occupies the site that 80 years earlier housed a store belonging to Craddock Bros Limited. Clarks bought out the Northampton company (which formed around 1875) in 1964 and carried-on the shoemaking tradition that has dominated that corner of Nottingham long before any of us can remember.

The oft-overlooked corner building itself is Russell Chambers, designed by Marshall and Turner in 1895. Some of the decorative relief on the building reminds me of the swirls on a custard cream biscuit, which may be why I find myself so drawn to it.

Long Row East

Did Robin Hood hide in your back yard?

If Robin Hood was god, I’d be agnostic. I kind of want to believe, but the lack of evidence means I struggle to nail my colours to the mast. We’re living in an era where people frequently say, “I’ll Google it,” if they’re unsure of something. Information (accurate or otherwise) is at our fingertips. The difficulty with the Robin Hood myth is that it was created and evolved in an age when very few people were literate, and so stories were passed on orally. A lot of details were probably assumed. In modern satirical radio and TV comedy sketches, there isn’t a great deal of exposition. If — for example — a royal family member is featured, we would have to assume that the audience is aware of his racial insensitivity and short-temperedness. The joke will rely on it. To stop and explain this would be dull, and so it would have been in olden times. For us, though, this presents a problem as we are trying to analyse the tales and place a historical context around them. We lack the assumed knowledge of the original audience, and so are somewhat adrift. Many other details could have easily been forgotten or altered (either intentionally or deliberately). The stories started around seven centuries ago, so it’s fairly reasonable to think that some warping of the details may have occurred. Anyone working in an office will know how Monday morning’s reports of Friday evening’s after work drinks can often bare little resemblance to what actually occurred. If such confusion can occur over two days, imagine what seven hundred years will do to a tale.

Within Rock Cemetery is an area known locally as Robin Hood’s Caves. Is there anything to substantiate that these caves were utilised by the outlaw? Not that I can find. In Sneinton, there’s both Robin Hood Street and Robin Hood Terrace. Why are they named so? Not sure. Maid Marion Way sits on the south side of the city centre. If you want to try to discover if Maid Marion ever travelled this road, you’d have to first find out who Maid Marion was. There’s little to suggest she was a real person, and her first appearance as Robin’s beau was not featured in the five or so earliest ballads.

Conversely, though, there are tantalising snippets of information here and there, and the vagueness perhaps adds to the mystique of the myth. I’ll leave you with my favourite such clue. In the Geste of Robyn Hood, there are repeated references to Robin’s hideout being in the forest and a mile from the town centre. In medieval times, the town centre was smaller than it is now, and forest covered much of the surrounding area. To travel one mile out from the town boundaries under the forest could take you to a great many places; St Ann’s, Mansfield Road (maybe there’s something to be said for the authenticity of those caves after all), Forest Fields, Radford, Lenton, The Park, The Meadows, or Sneinton.

Perhaps the great triumph of Hood is in his elusiveness, and his most fantastic gesture to the ordinary folk he defended so stoutly was the honour that he may have had his hideout in the place that is now your back yard. Sure, he might NOT have, but even the possibility that he did is glorious.

Nottingham’s medieval Black Friday: The Martinmas tradition at Lenton Priory

Lenton Priory was once a large complex that encompassed much of the modern area around Abbey Bridge, Priory Street  and Old Church Street. Click here for an incredibly in-depth overview of the site from British History Online. In 1164, the Priory was granted permission to hold an 11 day fair in honour of St Martin. Martinmas — the feast day of St Martin — is on November 11th, and so it was around this date that the fair took place.

priory_st_priory_1

The significance of fairs in those days was huge. It was forbidden to trade in other areas of Nottingham during the period of the fair, and so merchants would have craved a pitch. Carts pulled by beasts of burden or the traders themselves would have brought their stalls and wares to the occasion that attracted buyers and sellers from all over Europe. Imagine the modern fervour of excitement over ‘Black Friday’ (the day regarded as being the start of the Christmas shopping season) centred on one fair at the centre of England, and you’re probably getting close to how the event was regarded. Nowadays, fairs are often quite humble and the main attraction tends to be bouncy castles, cake bakes and face painting. In medieval times, though, the stature and hype of a fair would be more akin to today’s Glastonbury Festival. As well as trading, another feature of the Martinmas Fair was recruitment. Farm labourers would temporarily be between jobs in November, and could be hired at the fair for their next contract.

In 2014, a Martinmas Fair was held at the site of Lenton Priory, and another will be taking place in 2015. There were reconstructions of medieval combat, a visit from the modern Sheriff of Nottingham, tours and exhibitions focussing on the history of the site and surrounding areas, and of course refreshments. I was lucky enough to be involved, and made a short slideshow you can see on YouTube (see below) of photographs of the day.

2015 will see another Dunkirk and Lenton Martinmas Fair, this time on 31st October. Click here to visit the website where you can see some more information and even get involved in this historic project.